The New GMAT Exam Format: What to Expect in the GMAT Focus Edition

by Maximilian Claessens
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The New GMAT Exam Format - What to Expect in the GMAT Focus Edition

Business schools and those seeking to attend them can’t stop talking about the new GMAT exam format, the GMAT Focus Edition. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as we know it is about to undergo its biggest change in 7 decades. But most are optimistic, as these GMAT changes promise a more efficient, focused, and test-taker-friendly exam.

The most significant changes to this new GMAT exam format include a reduction in its duration and the removal of the AWA section. Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning will remain, but Integrated Reasoning will be transformed into a Data Insights section. Students can also look forward to the ability to review and edit answers with the GMAT Focus Edition.

This article will delve into everything you need to know about the new GMAT exam format and what students can expect. We’ll also compare the GMAT Focus Edition with the current GMAT test to illustrate the key GMAT changes.

Why is There a New GMAT Exam Format?

In March 2023, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) announced it would give the tried-and-true GMAT test a facelift. However, many have wondered what sparked the need for the new GMAT format.

The reasons behind the GMAT changes are clear when you examine them. It’s apparent that the amendments aim to ensure data literacy and critical reasoning skills are prioritized. That’s because these are two core competencies required to excel in the business environment.

That said, the GMAT format change also enhances the test experience for the student and makes it more accessible. This creates opportunities for students who struggled with sections now omitted or could not endure a 3-hour exam.

One must also remember that the world of business and technology is ever-changing. And it’s only logical that our knowledge and abilities must adapt to these changes. Therefore, how and what we learn must evolve in alignment with this.

The GMAT Focus Edition Release Date

After much speculation, GMAC has answered the question on everyone’s lips: When will GMAT Focus Edition be available? According to the GMAC website, registration for the new GMAT exam format opens on 29 August 2023.

However, testing via this new format will begin later in the year’s fourth quarter. Before that, free and paid official preparation resources and practice tests will be available on the MBA.com website on 6 June 2023.

These preparation resources will include a free 6-week study planner and GMAT Focus Official Starter Kit. The kit comprises 70 sample GMAT questions and 2 complete practice tests to help students prepare.

That said, it’s crucial to note that you can still opt to take the existing GMAT test until at least early 2024. So, if you’ve started preparing using the existing GMAT preparation materials, there’s no need to worry. But it’s worth mentioning that the officing preparation guide for the current GMAT format is no longer available to purchase or download.

Notable GMAT Changes in the GMAT Focus Edition

You know there’s a new GMAT exam format, but you’re not sure what this means. What exactly has changed, and how each GMAT format change affects you? Let’s take an in-depth look at the most significant modifications you can expect in the GMAT Focus Edition.

1. A Shorter Test Duration

That’s right. The duration of the beloved GMAT exam has changed. In fact, it’s changed quite significantly and will likely be music to the ears of many prospective business school students.

As most are aware, the current test requires test-takers to endure an agonizing 3 hours and 7 minutes exam. Granted, students can opt to take two 8-minute breaks during this time between sections. Nonetheless, many still find it an arduous process.

However, due to structural changes, the GMAT test’s duration has been reduced by almost an hour. Test-takers will only need to sit for 2 hours and 15 minutes when taking the GMAT Focus Edition. And you’ll still receive an optional 10-minute break between sections if required.

This reduction in test duration makes the exam far more appealing and accessible to students. It’s also bound to reduce exam fatigue, providing a more accurate assessment for the examining body.

2. A Different Test Structure

The most noteworthy GMAT changes to highlight are those made to the structure of the test. While the current exam comprises four distinct sections, the new GMAT exam format only includes three.

So, what’s missing? It may surprise you to learn that the Analytic Writing Assessment (AWA) will be a thing of the past. This section has been removed and will not appear in the GMAT Focus Edition test.

This is great news for students who struggled with the essay section of the GMAT exam. It ensures that skills critical to business school and resultant careers are the focus of the test. And it means that the entire test will now encompass multiple-choice questions only.

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections will remain, but you can expect them to be shorter than usual.

Quantitative Reasoning is set to be reduced from 31 to 21 questions. While Verbal Reasoning will now comprise 23 questions, less than the 36 in the existing test. Each of these sections will also be shorter in time, from 60 minutes to 45 minutes each.

The Integrated Reasoning section will become a Data Insights section, which we’ll discuss in more detail next. But this section will also carry a time limit of 45 minutes, making up the new 2 hours and 15 minutes total test time.

3. Changes to the GMAT Syllabus

It’s not just the removal and renaming of sections we should take heed of. The GMAT Focus Edition 2023 also brings some changes to each of the existing sections. Taking note of these syllabus changes and ensuring you understand them is vital to your success in the test.

The New Data Insights Section

As mentioned, Integrated Reasoning has been rebranded and will now be referred to as the Data Insights section. And this new Data Insights section aims to provide a more comprehensive assessment of the student’s ability to analyze and interpret data.

It’s also essential to note that this new section will carry more weight than its predecessor. The Integrated Reasoning section does not influence your total score with the existing GMAT exam. However, the Data Insights section in the new GMAT exam format will contribute to your overall GMAT score. 

As such, this new section will be more substantial, covering 20 questions as opposed to the 12 questions in the existing test. Data Insights will also carry a 45-minute time limit instead of the 30-minute limit previously assigned to Integrated Reasoning.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

The current GMAT exam assesses the following capabilities through the Verbal Reasoning section:

  • Sentence correction
  • Critical reasoning
  • Reading comprehension

However, it’s believed that the Verbal Reasoning section of the new GMAT format will no longer include sentence correction. While this hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, sources suggest this section will now focus on critical reasoning and reading comprehension.

Considering the removal of the AWA section, it makes sense that sentence correction would follow suit. Advanced tools for sentence correction are now commonplace nearly everywhere. But critical reasoning and reading comprehension remain essential skills for business school and beyond.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

This section evaluates a student’s problem-solving and data sufficiency skills. And these are tested in the existing GMAT test through the following:

  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Geometry

But there have been reports that the geometry portion of this section might be removed. And that the arithmetic and algebra segments will remain to test the students’ problem-solving abilities.

That’s not to say that data sufficiency skills will no longer be assessed. It is said that questions aimed at evaluating these skills will now move to the new Data Insights section of the exam.

Students who aren’t comfortable with or proficient in geometry may be happy to hear this. However, we must emphasize that this information has yet to be confirmed in an official capacity.

4. A New Review and Edit Feature

The Review and Edit feature is an exciting addition to the new GMAT exam format 2023. This new feature will allow students to bookmark questions they’re less confident about as they go.

You’ll have the option to go back and amend up to three of your answers with the GMAT Focus Edition. Something that’s never been an option before and will surely make the exam more appealing to test-takers.

That said, understanding the mechanics of the test is essential to fully comprehend how this feature will be implemented. So, let’s break it down in the form of a comparison between the existing GMAT test and the new GMAT format.

The Current GMAT Exam Mechanics

As a computer adaptive test, the current GMAT test is designed to evaluate your aptitude with each question. This means that the test algorithm uses data collected from the questions you’ve answered to determine the difficulty of your next question.

For example, perhaps you answer several questions correctly and display a certain competency level. The program’s algorithm recognizes this and consequently delivers your next few questions at a slightly higher level.

The more difficult the question, the more points you can earn when you answer that question correctly. Therefore, as you progress through the exam, you’re challenged and afforded the opportunity to add to your score.

Due to the present computer-adaptive approach, students can’t revisit or edit previous questions. That’s because the system has already used these answers to gauge your competency, and changing them would confuse the process.

The New GMAT Focus Edition Mechanics

A similar adaptive algorithm will be employed with the new GMAT exam format. Therefore, you’ll still be unable to skip questions as you go. But it will allow you to bookmark questions you aren’t sure about and may want to revisit later.

That said, you can only revisit questions after you’ve answered all the other questions for that section. As such, you must ensure you have enough time to go back if needed.

We should highlight that you won’t be restricted to the bookmarked questions should you have time to review and edit answers. However, you will be limited to a maximum of three edits to ensure the new algorithm’s level of assessment remains consistent.

While you can only make three edits, you’ll be free to review as many of your answers as you wish. This gives you a chance to evaluate which might need an amendment and carry out your edits wisely.

Students will love this new feature, as it prevents them from wasting too much time on a sticky question. This way, you can move forward with the test, answer the other questions, and revisit the problematic question if there’s time.

5. Choose Your Section Order

Currently, students can choose between the following pre-defined section order options when taking the GMAT exam:

  • Option 1: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning
  • Option 2: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Option 3: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing Assessment

However, the new GMAT exam format permits students to take the test in any order they choose. So, if you’d prefer to begin the test with the Data Insights section, you have the option to do so.

6. A Free Official Score Report

Receiving a score report after completing your GMAT exam isn’t new. However, students who want this report must currently pay to obtain it. It’s called the Enhanced Score Report (ESR), and it costs $30 to have yours sent to you.

But the upcoming GMAT Focus Edition will provide students with an Official Score Report at no additional cost after the exam. The cost of providing this report is covered as part of your registration fee, which you’ll have paid to take the test.

Students can also send up to 5 score reports free of charge to programs they’re applying for. And they’ll be able to send the reports as early as 48 hours after receiving their Official Score Report.

There’s a good chance the new GMAT exam format Official Score Report will provide the same information as the original ESR. And it will be instrumental in helping students gain essential insight into their test performance.

Should You Wait for the New GMAT Focus Edition Test?

If you’ve already started to prepare for your GMAT exam, don’t panic. Everything you’ve learned thus far will still be crucial and beneficial to your test and score.

But perhaps you’re unsure of whether you should take the current GMAT test or wait for the GMAT Focus Edition. In that case, it’s prudent to analyze the differences between the tests and consider your options carefully.

Remember that the current GMAT test will still be available until at least early 2024. So, think about how much time you have to prepare and which of the two tests you’d rather sit for.

GMAT Focus Edition Vs. Regular GMAT: Factors to Consider

When deciding which exam to sit for, you should consider the following crucial elements:

  • Availability of resources: Plenty of study aid and preparation guides exist for the current exam. However, the official preparation resources for the GMAT Focus Edition are available only as of 6 June 2023, and other prep providers will over over time.
  • Reliability of the test: The existing GMAT test is renowned as an industry standard when it comes to business acumen. It’s highly regarded by business schools and companies globally and familiar to students pursuing a business degree. But it may take some time for students and the business world to acclimatize to the new GMAT exam format.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses: If essay writing, geometry, and sentence correction are your strong suit, the current GMAT exam may benefit you more. But perhaps you’d prefer not to write an essay or solve a geometry problem. And maybe you excel at data insights. The new GMAT exam format may be a better fit in that case.

Another critical factor to consider is when your business school application is due. You’ll need to leave enough time to prepare for, complete, and retake the GMAT exam if necessary. And you should take into account the other tasks involved in completing your college application and how much time that requires.

Your Business School Application and GMAT Study Timeline

Ideally, your GMAT exam preparation should begin no less than 10 months before your application deadline. This leaves you 4 months to prepare and sit for the GMAT exam. And 6 months after that to work on and complete your college application.

Therefore, you’ll need to think about which application round is best for submitting your application. Once you know your application deadline, you can work out a reasonable timeline. This way, you can determine whether or not you’ll have time to wait for the GMAT Focus Edition test.

Round 1 Applications

Applying for business school in Round 1 offers the best opportunity for admission. This is when classes are still wide open, and admissions officers look at applications with fresh eyes.

When applying in Round 1, you convey a keen interest and eagerness to be part of the program. And it’s also the perfect time to get your foot in the door if you’re part of an over-represented group.

Round 1 applications are typically due in September. In other words, you should complete your GMAT exam 6 months before that in March. Therefore, preparation for your GMAT exam must begin the November before that. This gives you 4 months to prepare and take the test.

Given this, 2023 Round 1 applicants should already have completed their GMAT exams and ought to be working on their applications. However, students applying in Round 1 in 2024 can choose to take either the GMAT Focus Edition or the current exam.

Round 2 Applications

While it’s good to get your application in as early as possible, most applicants apply for business school in Round 2. This also happens to be when the largest number of students are admitted to MBA programs.

Waiting for Round 2 gives you a chance to improve your GMAT exam score if needed. So, if you’d like to retake the test to increase your score, you may improve your chances of admission.

The deadline for Round 2 applications is usually in January. That means you’ll need to complete your GMAT test in July, 6 months before that. As such, it’s recommended that you start studying for your GMAT exam in March to give yourself enough time.

Therefore, as you’ll be taking your GMAT test soon, you won’t have an opportunity to sit for the new GMAT exam format. That said, 2024 Round  2 applicants may have a chance to choose between the current and new exams. But this will depend on the availability of the current GMAT exam in mid-2024.

Round 3 Applications

Round 3 and beyond gives colleges an opportunity to shape classes and ensure they comprise a sufficiently diverse group of students. Therefore, it’s not a great time to apply if you represent an over-represented group. But it could offer an opportunity for under-represented student groups.

Applications for this round must usually be submitted by March/April. So, it’s best to have your GMAT exam under your belt 6 months before that in September. As such, you’ll need to begin your GMAT test preparation in May of that year.

Remember, registration for the GMAT Focus Edition opens on 29 August 2023. And the official GMAT preparation resources are available as of 6 June 2023 on MBA.com.

While it seems that Round 3 applicants have enough time to prepare, the first official tests will only take place sometime in Q4 of 2023. Therefore, studying for the current GMAT exam would still be your safest bet.

Conclusion

There are undoubtedly mixed emotions regarding the new GMAT exam format among students and business schools. But when you consider the ever-changing business world, it’s easier to appreciate the benefits of these GMAT changes.

The GMAT Focus Edition emphasizes the development and evaluation of skills crucial to the current business environment. Skills now deemed less critical due to technological advancements have been cut from the curriculum. And this has paved the way for a more dynamic, responsive, and test-taker-friendly GMAT exam.

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